My Weekend: The last man on earth, well, 4th Street

I’m on a boat.

It’s a beautiful afternoon on Rainbow Harbor, the sun is out and so are numerous families this Easter weekend. They are meandering about, going into the Aquarium of the Pacific, driving like idiots in the parking structure and hopping onto boat cruises like the one I’m on.

But the one I’m on is a little different from the usual whale watching, booze cruising, reggae listening, harbor touring cruises normally offered. This cruise, given by Harbor Breeze Cruises—the folks who own the Sir Winston—is called the Urban Ocean Cruise and it’s only offered for a few months, pretty much once a month from now until the end of the summer. I was on the first one of the season.

Urban Ocean is a different kind of cruise, i.e., there was no steel drum music. It is meant to show and inform you about what we have around us, how it affects us and how we affect the environment. With information and data provided by the Aquarium of the Pacific, there are frank discussions about the pros and cons of the breakwater, the environmental impact of the ports of Long Beach and L.A. as well as a stark reveal of the ugliest lighthouse that has ever been. Ever. Put it this way, there aren’t a lot of harbor tours that involve the guide employing the term “ocean acidification.”

When I first got aboard, I went to the front of the boat; I’m sure there’s a technical name for it, you know that part of the boat where it comes to that pointy thing at the front. I sat there, alone, for a while, gazing out over the harbor, the Queen Mary, though not thinking about anything water-related. No, my mind was back on Friday night when I saw something truly remarkable, something so truly remarkable that I’m not sure I actually saw it.

I had been at the Friday night screening of “Light in the Water” a documentary about the West Hollywood Swim and Water Polo team, the first openly gay team to compete in open Masters competition. The film is fantastic, dealing straightforwardly with bigotry and death and yet managing to be uplifting and enormously entertaining. After the screening, the film’s director, Lis Bartlett, some of her colleagues who worked on the film and some of the team members who appeared in the film got up to field questions. Joining them were some members of Long Beach’s own Grunions Masters swim team, who said that the West Hollywood team had been an influence and inspiration, yet another lesson that the simple act of being yourself, your true self, can create the kind of ripples that change lives.

It was a wonderful evening, and I highly recommend checking out the film, which will be playing most of this week at the Art. But that wasn’t the remarkable part. The remarkable part happened minutes after I left the theater and walked a few blocks east on Fourth Street. When I reached Dawson Avenue, which runs along the western border of Burbank Elementary, I saw two gentlemen, each walking a dog, each seeming to fall into each other in slow motion.

At first, it appeared their dogs had taking a liking or disliking to each other—it’s so hard to figure with dogs—and had gone at each other, leaving the men entwined while attempting to pull their dogs apart. But then I saw that the men had not only become entwined but that they were now clearly punching at each other; punching at each other with one hand, mind you, as they attempted to restrain their dogs with the other.

This went on for quite a while, their movements accompanied by the sound of the dogs, traffic and the patrons on Fourth, giving the whole thing a kind of modern dance feel like someone asked Twyla Tharp if she ever thought of working in the “dogs and dudes in their pajamas” milieu. Oh, did I mention that both guys were in their pajamas? Because they were. And the more they tussled, the farther down the pajama bottoms dropped so that the evening became increasingly moonlit if you know what I mean.

But here’s the other thing about the performance: Apparently, I was the only one seeing it. I looked around for someone, anyone, to laugh about it, talk about it, point at it, anything, and there was no one. There were people back at the theater and in the neighboring restaurants, I could hear them, but none came our way. I thought about just hanging around until someone finally came by, but then it hit me that the two guys might realize I was there and perhaps turn on me. Sure, they were in pajamas, but, they seemed rather cranky and, at the very least, they did have two somewhat pissed off dogs. I left, walked to my car, and wondered if I had really seen, what I thought I had really seen. This prompted …

Still waiting for the first response.

I guess we’ve all had moments where we find that we were the only ones who saw something, giving one that feeling of being in a separate reality, alone on an existential island. I have dreams like this all the time, where I see something so crazy and yet no one else sees or acknowledges it. Say, I’ll be sitting in a room and one of the people in the room will be on fire and when I bring it to the attention of others in the room, they look incredulous and say something like, “What? Do you mean Paul? Paul’s always on fire.”

I was thinking about this on the boat, as it pulled out of the harbor. I started chatting with one of the crew, Sam Slade, a Long Beach filmmaker who’s worked at Harbor Breeze for a few years. I asked him if couples still go to the front of the boat to take the Jack and Rose picture from “Titanic.” He lowered a look on me that said yes, all the time, now please don’t ask me any more about it. Then, kind of suddenly, he added: “You know, the weird thing is that I get people all the time who think the Queen Mary is the Titanic.”

Harbor Breeze’s Sam Slade. I complimented him on his cool “Navy jacket.” He told me he actually bought the jacket on Amazon and just “sewed on the epaulets.”

Harbor Breeze boats cruise right by the Queen Mary and Sam says he is now not the least bit surprised when someone intones that it is the Titanic.

“To me, the weird thing is that the only reason they know the Titanic is that they’ve seen the movie and the Titanic clearly sinks in the movie,” Sam said. “I mean, that happens in the movie; it’s pretty much the whole point of the movie. I don’t know what they think happened after that. I, I, don’t know. Whenever we hire someone new, one of the first things I tell them is that people are going to ask them if the Queen Mary is the Titanic and they never believe me. And then, fairly early on, they’ll come over to me and say ‘You were right.’ And then they’ll ask me what the people are thinking and I’ll say ‘I have no idea.’ “

Look, if you’re one of those people having a hard time distinguishing between the ships, just remember this: one of them is a damnable testament to man’s hubris which led to it becoming one of the worst disasters in history. The other is the Titanic.

(By the way, Sam is a pretty gifted filmmaker. Check out “The Kip Wallace Guarantee” a very funny, bit macabre short film made by Sam and his colleagues that won the audience prize at the 48 Hour Film Project in Los Angeles.)

The tour took us through the ports and along the breakwater where, at the end, we were treated(?) to the sight of the Long Beach Light, the lighthouse that sits out at the Long Beach entrance to the harbor. Don’t get this confused with the lighthouse that sits just off Parkers’ Lighthouse, or the gorgeous Angels Gate Light-or the Titanic—the Long Beach Light looks like someone just stacked a bunch of boxes quickly to form, as the tour narrator put it, the “ugliest lighthouse in the world.” That being said, the Light is significant since, when established in 1949, it was completely automated and was the forerunner of the new version of 20th-century lighthouses on America’s West Coast. That being said, it also looks like a ‘50s movie robot that eats its feelings.

I wanted to show you the Light, but my phone died by the time we went by it, and I couldn’t find any useable photos of it online because, you know, why? So I drew you a version. It’s pretty much completely accurate, except for the sad face. I added that.

The Long Beach Light (Artist rendering)

And soon we were back at the dock. I heartily recommend the Urban Ocean Cruise, especially to locals. You’ll get to see areas that you normally wouldn’t get to see and get to talk about things we don’t normally don’t talk about, but really should. You know, things like Climate Change, which, after reading the Post’s package of stories about today, it appears we all will be spending a lot more time on boats, real soon.

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Steve Lowery began his journalism career at the Los Angeles Times, where he planned to spend his entire career. God, as usual, laughed at his plans and he has since written for the short-lived sports publication The National, the L.A. Daily News, the Press-Telegram, New Times LA, the District and the OC Weekly. He is the Arts & Culture Editor for the Post, overseeing the Hi-lo.
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